Taking Control Of Your Job Interview

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Originally published on Forbes

Almost everyone knows how a job interview is going to go: You’ll be given an open-ended prompt like, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Walk me through your background,” to start the interview. Based upon your answers, the interviewer will probably dig deeper to understand your role and responsibilities and attempt to objectively evaluate your knowledge before eventually asking, “So, do you have any questions for me?”

You’ll likely answer, “Yes, would you tell me about the job?”

The interviewer does that. Then, you say something like, “Sounds great!”

“Good. We’ll be in touch,” responds the interviewer.

What’s wrong with this scenario is the fact that the power resides with the interviewer. They are both in control and believe that they have all the information about the job they’re hiring for. They think, “I have a job description. I know what I’m looking for.”

There are two things wrong with that assumption. The first is that a job description may just be the previously approved description that no one updates. It may have been released because a hiring manager called their recruiting coordinator and asked, “Do you have the job description we used to hire Wei? She just gave notice.” Then no one takes the time to update it given the new needs and realities of the role.

The second problem is that even if the job description is updated, or the position is newly created, from the time it was created and approved until you pick up the phone or walk through the door for your interview, the hiring manager and the team may have gone through a few mental changes to the job and never communicated them to human resources. This is why I believe that most job descriptions are only 80% accurate, and you often have no idea which 20% is inaccurate.

Instead of abdicating control of the interview to the interviewer, whether it’s a human resources person or a hiring manager, I want you to flip the conversation on its head and find out about the job at the beginning of the interview so that you can talk about what you’ve done that matters to them.

Him Whether you’re contacted out of the blue for a quick recruiting screen or for a formal phone interview, I want you to flip the conversation as follows:

“Hi. Is this Jeff Altman?” asks the interviewer. When you hear this, immediately become aware that there’s a chance you’re about to be recruited.

“My name is Susan from X Company. I’m doing a search and wanted a chance to speak with you. Is this a convenient time to speak?”

Then, respond with, “Yes, it is, Susan. Before you go further, would you tell me about the position you’re recruiting for and what I can do to help?”

If you’re attending an in-person interview, as both of you are being seated, you speak first and say, “Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me. I recall the position description (from the ad or from what Susan or the agency recruiter told you), but I wanted to get your take on it. Would you tell me about the position as you see it and what I can do to help?”

Thus, you’ll get a current description of the role at the beginning of your interview so that you can tie all of your answers to what the interviewer is trying to find out about you. When they give you that open-ended prompt like, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Walk me through your background,” start your answer in the predictable way of: “I’ve been in the field for a little more than 20 years. For the past four years, I’ve been working for Y Company, where I’ve been responsible for this and that. Before that, I was with Z Company, where I did this and that.”

That takes about 15-20 seconds. Then, you can grab the attention of the interviewer by saying, “But what’s probably most relevant about my background is my experience with Y Company, where I did this and that.” This is when you describe what you’ve done that either matches up with the position description the interviewer just told you about or is most similar to it, and you do this in a minute to a minute-and-15 seconds.

By finding out about the job at the beginning of the interview and then getting the interviewer’s attention with the phrase “But what’s probably most relevant about my background is,” you can level the power differential between you and the interviewer.

Can you anticipate what the interviewer will ask you about next? They’ll likely want to know more about how the experience you described is most relevant to the job they have open. Now that you know what to expect, you can prepare for the questions you may be asked.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2019, 2021 



Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2200 episodes.

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